Bayside City Blooms With Artistic Affinity

Bayside City Blooms With Artistic Affinity

Maja Wolff

SAN FRANCISCO–The moment visitors to San Francisco land at SFO, they are introduced to the city’s strong affinity for art. For 20 years, the San Francisco International Airport has produced upwards of 40 art exhibitions each year, seen by nearly 35 million people who pass through the airport annually. And this month, Artexpo California makes its way to the city Nov. 2-5 at the Concourse Exhibition Center. More than 130 exhibitors and thousands of attendees are expected.

Indeed, art abounds around the Golden Gate and has for years. “San Francisco’s art scene varies from other cities in its variety, its constant interest in `outsider’ art and new art forms, and the longevity and strength of its galleries, many of which are well into their second and third decades of existence,” said Tract Freedman, president of the 30-year-old San Francisco Art Dealers’ Association (SFDA) and co-owner and co-director of the 14-year-old Hackett-Freedman Gallery. “For a city that seems to thrive on the latest trends, there is much longevity and stability in the art scene.”

Thirty Bay Area art dealers comprise the SFDA, which presents shows of new and emerging artists and sponsors fund-raising events and scholarships for many local groups, among them the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the California College of Arts and Crafts. Hackett-Freedman Gallery shows emerging and mid-career contemporary artists. This month, it will show the work of two young figurative artists, Costa Vavagiakis and local artist David Tomb.

Freedman, like many San Francisco gallery owners, cites the dot-com boom as a boon to the art market locally. “I think many local dealers are seeing new business developing from younger people in the Bay Area, fueled in part by the incredible growth of the Internet and related businesses and the wealth that has been created,” she said. “Those buyers are all over the map in terms of their interests and purchases, but in particular, I suspect many are starting their collections with contemporary photography and mid-priced contemporary works, although those who are comfortable with art have few qualms about spending more to get what they want.”

Michelle Townsend, director of the two-year-old Hang Gallery, agreed. “There is quite a hum of people excited about emerging artists,” she said. “We opened our gallery with the expectation that our clientele would be younger, first-time collectors. But many established collectors are coming in to buy the work of living artists who are not over-marketed.”

Theron Kabrich, one of the owners of the San Francisco Art Exchange, began nearly 20 years ago selling consigned pieces by artists like Miro, Chagall, Picasso and Dali. Slowly, as he and his partners added artists like Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones to the mix, the gallery became khown for its connections in the entertainment and illustration world. The gallery became focused on Pop Culture, meaning “the images and personalities that become popular without intention,” said Kabrich. San Francisco, he said, is well organized for art shoppers, who can easily walk through neighborhoods browsing their galleries. The city’s tourist-Mecca status also helps. “Time is a more rare commodity than money these days,” said Kabrich. “The only time you can get somebody into a gallery is if it’s not in their hometown.”

Another way to get people into galleries is through events like First Thursday gallery walks and Open Studio tours, both of which have been successful for San Francisco galleries. Recently, Hang hosted its most successful First Thursday event, attracting nearly 300 people to an opening. And Townsend says that ArtSpan’s month-long October Open Studio event attracted more artists and visitors this year than ever before.

But one doesn’t have to visit a gallery or an artist’s studio–or even the airport–to see art in San Francisco. The Embarcadero Center is a six-block office and retail space that is home to a world-renowned collection of public art, much of it created to work specifically with the environment in which it was placed. German artist Fritz Koening’s untitled bronze spherical sculpture complements the curves of the stfiirs that encircle it, and Massachusetts artist Dimitri Hadzi’s sculpture “Creazione (K458 The Hunt Variation)” uses a sense of movement to balance the static nature of a buildings, ramps and rows of trees that surround it. Stephan DeStaebler created “Torso With Arms Raised II” to reflect his interest in archeology, geology and history. The sculpture uses no armature or supports, making gravity a crucial element of the piece. He is considered one of California’s most important living artists.

“San Francisco loves its identity as a home for bohemia, new ideas and artists,” said Freedman. And those who visit the city fall in love with its art affinity, too.

Leading Attractions

1 Fisherman’s Wharf

2 Chinatown

3 Golden Gate Bridge

4 Union Square

5 Cable Car Ride

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